CONCORD, N.C. – The governors of North and South Carolina declared states of emergency Friday afternoon due to increasing power outages and severe icing conditions in their states, which took the brunt of the storm that swept across the East Coast earlier this week.
Ten thousand utility workers were racing to restore power Friday to nearly 1.5 million people across the Carolinas. Workers have poured in from across the South to help battle the ice, which continued to send tree limbs crashing onto power lines, some of which had already been repaired once.
"We come up here, work a little overtime, help the folks get the lights back on before Christmas," said Bobby Brinkman of Sarasota, Fla.-based Pike Electric.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, explaining the post-storm emergency declaration, said he was worried too many people were choosing to ride out the cold. Only 1,600 people stayed in 56 of the state's shelters Thursday night, and forecasters predicted a low of 17 on Friday night.
Friday's temperatures temporarily climbed into the 40s, melting some of the ice. Guard members will go door-to-door to make sure people are safe and have information about local emergency shelters, Easley said.
Easley activated the National Guard to help residents in areas where electricity wasn't expected to be restored for several days or more.
Frustrated utilities pushed back earlier promises and acknowledged most customers won't have power back until next Wednesday night, exactly one week after the ice storm began blowing through.
"The tree limbs are still falling and getting tangled up in our power lines," said Mike McCracken, a spokesman for Carolina Power & Light. "We've made ground in some areas, but in other locations, we've lost ground."
Forests and yards popped with the sound of crashing branches, roofs and cars were crushed and streets were littered with debris and downed lines.
Outages increased Friday morning as ice-weakened trees continued to fall on power lines. But, by afternoon, Raleigh-area CP&L's outages had dropped back to 352,333 and Duke Power, based in Charlotte, reported 844,000 customers without power in North Carolina and 215,000 in South Carolina.
Raleigh-area CP&L's outages increased to 411,000 from 350,000 a day earlier. Charlotte-based Duke Power also lost ground, as 993,000 North Carolina customers were without electricity Friday, compared to 930,000 earlier. Nearly 290,000 were powerless in South Carolina, up from 276,000.
The North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives reported 92,000 outages. Electricities, an organization of 98 power systems in the Carolinas and Virginia, reported 35,000 outages.
BellSouth spokesman Clifton Metcalf said about 24,000 telephone lines out of service early Friday. Areas without phone service probably were without commercial electricity too, he said.
Jean Voss hung yards of felt to isolate her living room in Wake Forest, north of Raleigh, and spent Thursday night huddled with her elderly parents under a pile of blankets in front of a set of gas logs.
"My mother likes to defy God," Voss said when asked Friday morning why they hadn't gone somewhere else. "'If God's on my side, I'm going to be fine."'
At least 26 deaths have been blamed on the storm since it blew across the Southern Plains earlier in the week, sending snow and ice from New Mexico to New York. They include a Virginia woman who froze to death after her car slid off the road and a North Carolina man whose car was hit by a falling tree as he returned from delivering blood supplies.
In New York, noted jazz saxophonist Robert Berg, 51, was killed Thursday when a cement truck collided with his SUV on a snow-slickened Long Island road. Berg had toured with Miles Davis in the 1980s and recorded solo albums.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.